England beat Switzerland on penalties to keep Euros dream alive

Published July 7, 2024
DUSSELDORF: England’s Bukayo Saka (second R) shoots to score during the Euro 2024 quarter-final against Switzerland at Dusseldorf Arena on Saturday.—Reuters
DUSSELDORF: England’s Bukayo Saka (second R) shoots to score during the Euro 2024 quarter-final against Switzerland at Dusseldorf Arena on Saturday.—Reuters

DUSSELDORF: England’s quest for a first major tournament win in 58 years remained alive after another late fightback before beating Switzerland 5-3 on penalties to book their place in the Euro 2024 semi-finals here on Saturday.

After the 120 minutes finished level at 1-1, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was the Three Lions’ hero in the shoot-out as he saved Switzerland’s first spot-kick from Manuel Akanji.

Cole Palmer, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, Ivan Toney and Trent Alexander-Arnold converted their penalties to send England into a semi-final meeting with Turkey or the Netherlands in Dortmund on Wednesday.

After needing Bellingham’s 95th-minute equaliser before going on to beat Slovakia in extra time in the last 16, England were again staring at defeat with 10 minutes to go.

A dreary encounter for the first 75 minutes came to life after Breel Embolo put Switzerland in front.

Saka’s fine strike from outside the box levelled with England’s first shot on target five minutes later.

Manchester City defender Akanji was then the unfortunate penalty villain as Switzerland’s horrible record in major tournament quarter-finals goes on. They have now lost five without ever reaching a semi-final.

By contrast, England march on despite the latest in a string of underwhelming performances from Gareth Southgate’s men. In his 100th match in charge of his country, Southgate again resisted calls for mass changes in personnel but did alter his system.

Ezri Konsa made his first-ever competitive international start in place of the suspended Marc Guehi as England switched to a back three.

However, contrary to expectation, Saka remained on the right in what proved to be an inspired decision by Southgate.

The Arsenal winger was by far the biggest threat of a first half in which neither side managed a shot on target.

Saka was skipping beyond Michel Aebischer at will and created the best chance of the first period when Kobbie Mainoo saw an effort deflected behind just before the half-time whistle.

The game continued at the same laboured pace from both sides into the second half.

Embolo finally managed the first shot on goal when his weak effort was easily handled by Jordan Pickford.

Southgate has been repeatedly criticised for being too slow to influence games with his substitutions.

Despite having one of the most richly talented squads at the tournament, it took until they fell behind for Southgate to shake things up.

England looked headed for a meek exit when Embolo pounced at the far post to turn in Dan Ndoye’s deflected cross at the back post.

Southgate reacted immediately with Palmer, Eberechi Eze and Luke Shaw, making his first appearance since February, sent on.

Within five minutes England were level as Saka cut inside and fired low and hard in off the far post.

Switzerland were indebted to a brilliant save from Yann Sommer to deny Declan Rice a second for England early in extra time.

Harry Kane was then forced off injured after a nasty fall into the England dugout.

And it was Switzerland who came closest in the second half of extra time as Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner came back off the woodwork before Pickford parried Zeki Amdouni’s powerful strike from distance.

England won only one of five previous penalty shoot-outs at the Euros, including defeat by Italy in the final three years ago.

But they were perfect from the spot as Saka erased some of the pain from his decisive miss in the Euro 2020 final.

France end Ronaldo’s dream

Late on Friday, France converted all their kicks in a shootout to edge Portugal 5-3 on penalties after a goalless stalemate in their quarter-final, likely bringing the curtain down on Cristiano Ronaldo’s international career.

Theo Hernandez stroked home the winning kick for a perfect sequence after Joao Felix’s effort, the third for Portugal, hit the post. France will now play Spain in the semi-finals on Tuesday in Munich.

Defeat for Portugal is set to spell the end of the 21-year international career of 39-year-old Ronaldo, who converted their first kick in the shootout but was also responsible for one of the night’s many glaring misses.

Success for France makes up for shootout heartbreak at the last Euros, when they were eliminated by Switzerland in the round of 16, and in the 2022 World Cup final against Argentina.

Ousmane Dembele, Youssouf Fofana, Jules Kounde and Bradley Barcola all netted their spot kicks for victorious France.

A game that was slow in firing was upended with a myriad of missed opportunities at either end, with clear chances for both sides in 90 minutes as well as the half hour of extra time.

France now find themselves in the semis without scoring in open play at the tournament, having benefitted from two own goals and a penalty in their previous four games.

But the French have also not conceded in open play at Euro 2024 with goalkeeper Mike Maignan making two saves in the match that proved key for his side.

Maignan made two crucial saves in the space of three minutes a stiff arm reaction to deny Fernandes on the hour, followed by a point-blank stop from Vitinha after another of Rafael Leaos’s probing runs.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game but we were solid in defence and we had a lot of mental strength and kept our cool during the shootout, that’s what made the difference,” Maignan said.

The worst miss, however, belonged to Ronaldo three minutes into extra time as Francisco Conceicao’s enterprise saw him cut in on the byline and pull the ball back for his captain to deliver a fairytale finish but the forward fluffed his lines, having done little hitherto.

Ronaldo’s future with Portugal after 212 caps and 130 goals now looks at an end, as does the international career of 41-year-old centre back Pepe.

“Football is cruel […] and sadness is part of it. We were aiming to win for our country and bring joy to our people,” said Pepe. “Five days ago we won on penalties and now we’ve lost on penalties.”

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2024



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